"What the Papers Said" - from Shropshire Caving & Mining Club Archives
Wellington Journal & Shrewsbury News, December
Mr. Coroner J. V. T. Lander opened an adjourned inquest at Shifnal, yesterday, touching the decease of George Gough, Arthur Wilton, Richard Rogers, and Thomas Glenister, all of Madeley; Alphonse Stanley, of Shifnal; and Randolph Cecil Miles, and Albert Jones, of Dawley, who came by their death at the Kemberton Pit under circumstances detailed below.
Mr. H. Revell Phillips (Shifnal) represented the Madeley Wood Company, the owners of the colliery, and Mr. Willcox (Wolverhampton) the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, and the Miners' Association; Mr. T. Sproston (Newcastle) appeared for Messrs. Haggie Brothers, rope makers, and Mr. F. Symes (from the office of Mr. Philip Baker, Birmingham) for Mark Davies (engine driver), George Richards (stoker), and the Enginemen and Firemen's Society. There were also present:— Mr. Wynne, H.M. Inspector of Mines; Mr. Alfred Onions and Mr. Hughes, of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain; Mr. W. Latham, of the Shropshire Association of Miners ; Sir Arthur Anstice, Mr. Cadman (manager of the colliery), and Mr. Hugh Johnstone, Chief Inspector of Mines.
The evidence of William Fletcher, banksman, who identified the bodies at the original inquiry, was read over.— In answer to Mr. Johnstone, witness said he had nothing to do with the rope. It was his duty to overlook the men and women who worked at the top. It was about 16 months since the rope was put on. It was wound off a reel on to the drum. There was no kinking whatever. All that he knew about the accident was that he was called to the pit to receive the bodies when they were brought up.— In reply to questions put by Mr. Willcox, witness said it was the duty of the fireman to examine the shaft. The fireman's name was Tranter. Witness did not know whether he examined the shaft daily. Sometimes the examination was made by another fireman named York. He did not know who examined the shaft on the day of the accident. He could not tell who examined it that week.— In answer to the Coroner, witness said he did not know whose duty it was to examine the shaft on the day of the accident.
John Cox, Madeley, said he was manager for the Madeley Wood Colliery Company at Kemberton Pit. The depth of the shaft was 338 yards, and the diameter eight feet. There was one double-deck cage, each deck carrying one ton. The cage was attached to the rope by two wire guide-rods, each 1 1/8 inches in diameter. The rope was of the best plough-steel, was made by Messrs. Haggie Brothers, Limited, of Newcastle. It was first put into use on August 16th, 1909; and it had been in use 15 months. It was re-capped in December 1909, and again in April, 1910; and at each re-capping the rope was found to be in excellent condition. The chain was made up of six strands, each strand made up of seven wires, each wound round a core of smaller wires, and each strand was wound round a central core of galvanised steel wires. The drum round which the rope was wound was 15 feet in diameter, and was of wood. The rope on the downward was tested in January, and broke at 61.8 tons. The last upcast rope was on two years. It was in good condition, and had since been winding water. The rope was examined every morning by the rope examiner, and a report was made in writing. The report on December 4th was that the machinery was safe, and that the headgear, ropes, and chains were good. That report was signed by the engineman and Stephan. No broken wires were reported. He never knew of any injury to the drum. During the 16 months the rope had been working dally, and also about two hours at night. The ordinary working load was 3 tons 11 cwt., with cage, in all about five tons. The number of men authorised to ride in the cage was eight on the top deck and six on the bottom. At the time of the accident there were seven men in the cage; and the total weight of the load would be about 27cwt.
In answer to Mr. Johnstone, witness named four possible causes of the accident. He was first informed of the accident at 20 minutes to 11 at night on December 4th, by two men, John Oswell and Arthur Dudley, who knocked him up. They told him the rope had broken, that the cage had fallen to the bottom of the pit, and that seven men had been killed. He sent for assistance, and arrived at the pit at three minutes to eleven. It was about one o'clock on Monday morning when they got to the bottom of the pit, where they had to clear away a lot of wreckage before they could get to the bodies. The last body was brought out before four o'clock on Monday morning.— Examined by Mr. Willcox, witness said there was no evidence whatever to indicate the cause of the accident. The most probable reason was that the cage might possibly have caught "the legs", and did not get clear. The top of the pit was lighted by a 32-power incandescent light. If the cage was out of repair that might tend to cause the accident. The cage was repaired on the morning of the accident.— Mr. Willcox celled the attention of witness to certain entries in the book for several days in succession, reporting that repairs were needed to the cage. Witness said all those reports were attended to, and, when it could be done, a patch was put on until such time as the cage could be taken out and the work done. The banksman made the entries as to repairs being required, so as to relieve himself of any responsibility. It was not because of repairs being wanted that the accident occurred. The cage had been repaired on the morning of the accident; it was then put into thorough repair. He saw "the legs" on the day before the accident, and they were then in perfect working order. The distance between "the legs" and the cage, when the former was fastened was between five and six inches on each side. The width of the cage was four feet. There was no evidence in any part of the shaft that the cage had rubbed or knocked. All the seven men who were killed were on the top deck of the cage. In answer to Mr. Symes, witness said the engine-man, George Richards, was a competent, steady, and thoroughly reliable man.
Mr. Phillips questioned witness with respect to the entries in the book referred to by Mr. Willcox. Witness explained that the fact that no entries were made as to repairs having been done did not necessarily mean that the repairs had not been attended to. The reports were sent across to his office, and he went through them. When it was reported that any repair was needed to the cage, he examined the cage himself; and, having satisfied himself as to what was required, he would give the blacksmith orders to repair it. If the part of the cage which needed attention was not an important part which had to carry weight, they put a patch on it, until they could get the cage taken out. As a rule, he did not examine the rope daily; but he received a report thereon from the banksmen, and satisfied himself that it was receiving proper attention. No complaint was made to him about the rope.
In answer to the Coroner, Mr. Cox said he found that pieces of the broken end of the rope had been twisted off, and taken away by people as keepsakes; and he immediately took steps to recover them.
The Coroner said the fact that the wires had been taken away before the rope was examined was contempt of court. There was no doubt whatever that the company were ignorant of it; and Mr. Cox did all he could to recover the wires as early as possible. The breaking off and taking away of pieces of wire made it more difficult to ascertain the cause of the accident. The people who took those wires had rendered themselves liable to prosecution; and they ought to know it.
Mr. Henry Green, an inspector in connection with Lloyd's Testing House, Birmingham, gave evidence as to the result of his tests of the rope. Taken as a whole, the rope was ample to carry the weight put upon it. In his opinion, the rope had caught some fixed object, which had broken it. It was not likely to break as a result of its carrying merely a weight of five tons.
Mr. Stephen Dixon, Professor of Civil Engineering in the University of Birmingham, gave lengthy evidence as to his tests of the rope. It went to show that there was no defect in the rope.
Mr. Sproston (who was watching in the interests of the makers of the rope) said the evidence he had proposed to call was very similar to that which had been given by Mr. Green and Professor Dixon; and he therefore thought it was not now. necessary to call it.
Mark Davies said he was an engineman in the employ. of the Madeley Wood Colliery Company, in whose service he had been between 15 and 16 years. He had been an engine-driver 10 years, and had been engaged at the winding engine at the Kemberton Pit six months. He was in charge of this particular engine on December 4th. He started that morning at twenty minutes past six. He examined the machinery, and made an entry of the fact in a book provided for that purpose. The entry was "machinery safe". It was the machinery for winding the cage up and down the pit. It was a part of his duty to examine the machinery, and to report if there was anything wrong. The rope inspector examined the rope, as he always did before any men entered the cage. That was satisfactory. The horse fetlers went down, and after that he was drawing water for an hour. Two pumpers went down at eight o'clock. After that the blacksmiths and banksman were repairing the cage. When they had finished their work, the cage was, in his opinion, perfectly safe for taking the men up and down to their work in the pit. After that, he drew the pumpers up; and at twelve o'clock, repairs were done to the other cage. Two rivets were taken out and put in again. He saw that done, and it was satisfactorily completed. He loosed the cage to the bottom: and, at half-past twelve, he went home to his dinner. He returned again, at ten minutes past ten at night. He went to the engine, and drew the cage from the bottom of the upcast shaft. The seven men got on to the cage to go down the pit. When it was about three or four revolutions from the top, there was a sudden snap, which almost brought the engine to a standstill. As far as he could judge, though he would not say for certain, the cage was then about 30 or 40 yards down the shaft. When he felt the sudden check to the engine, he stopped it to ascertain the cause. Some men ran over to him to where he stood, and told him that the rope had broken, and that the cage had fallen to the bottom of the pit. He found that was so; and sent for assistance.— In answer to Mr. Phillips, witness said the manager called his attention to the fact that pieces of wire had been twisted off the broken end of the rope. He afterwards recovered pieces of the wire from a man named Barker, Jack Gregory, Ted Heighway of Aqueduct, and Tom Lysons, of Aqueduct.
Mr. Johnstone called the attention of witness to special rule 161, relating to the duties of an engineman, namely, "When lowering or raising persons he shall use extra care, and after an intermission of working of four hours, shall run the ropes of the put up and down before lowering or raising persons".
Witness said he did not know of the rule until after the accident, but he had heard of it since. He worked by the same rule by which they had always worked.
In answer to a question by Mr. Symes, witness said that, when there had been an inter-mission of work four hours, he always ran the ropes up and down before lowering into or raising people out of the pit. That was the practice at the pit; and he observed it on the day in question.
George Richards, Prince's Street, Madeley, said he was a stoker employed by the Madeley Wood Colliery Company. He went to work at six o'clock in the morning of December 4th. He stoked the engine for Davies. For a little more than a year he had been in the habit of acting as a banksman on Sundays. He was not on the bank till ten o'clock on the night in question. He attended to the boilers in the morning. He went to his dinner. He returned at a quarter past one, and was there till five next morning. The cage was at the bottom of the pit; and Davies pulled it to the top when he commenced work. It was no part of his duty to examine the cage. So far as he knew, the cage and the rope were in good working order. The deceased men came to the pit about ten o'clock. When Davies was ready, witness went to act as his banksman. The pithead was lighted with electric light, and that was in working order, and he could see the men. When all was ready, he gave the signals. Davies started them, and they all went down. He held the props back between the time of his giving the signal and the men being lowered down. Nothing seemed to him to go wrong. The cage passed down the entrance to the shaft in the ordinary way. The first he knew of the accident was when he heard a crash over his head. That was almost immediately after the cage had gone out of his sight The crash was like breaking wood. To the best of his knowledge, "the legs” were in working order, and the cage was in working order.
William Stephan said he was a banksman at Kemberton Pit, and had been employed by the Madeley Wood Company 25 years. He had been a banksman 17 years; and he knew what the duties were and copies of the special rules were kept at the pit, and each of them had a copy supplied to them. He had read his copy. One of his duties was to make and send in a report every morning. On this particular Sunday, he went to work at six o'clock in the morning. He examined the rope before the men went down into the pit. It was in good condition. He left at one o'clock. The cage went up and down three times while he was there.
John Adams, Aqueduct, said he was an on-setter in the employ of the Madeley Wood Colliery Company. On the day in question he was at work in the Kemberton Pit. He came out at twelve o'clock. So far as lie could see the condition of the cage was then all right.
Richard Tranter said he was a fireman in the employ of the Madeley Wood Colliery Company. It was a part of his duty to examine the shaft. He made an examination weekly; and, if there was anything to report, the entered it in a book at the colliery. It was six months since he last had to make a report. The last time he examined the shaft at the Kemberton Pit was on the Monday before the accident. He was down the pit on the Sunday morning to examine the workings. He did not make a special examination, but he noticed it as he went down, and he could not see anything wrong. If there had been anything out of place, he would have noticed it.
John Oswell, Madeley, said he was a collier at the Kemberton Pit. On the night in question, he went to work at ten o'clock. He did not go down the pit because the seven deceased men got into the cage before him. The cage had gone out of his sight before the rope broke.
Mr. Wynne, Assistant Inspector of Mines said he had examined the shaft of the pit, and did not find anything to account for the accident. He had examined a part of the rope, but found nothing the matter with it except ordinary wear.
After the Coroner had summed up the evidence, the jury retired, and after an absence of twenty minutes, returned a verdict of "Accidental death" They also called attention to the fact that the engine-driver, the banksman, and the stoker did not seem to be conversant with the special rules relating to their respective duties. They further suggested that the Colliery Company might adopt some device for safeguarding the persons who had to travel up and down the shaft.
Sir Arthur Anstice said the suggestion of the jury would receive the attention of the company.
The hearing of the inquiry extended over six hours.
Submitted by Steve Dewhirst